Cat Elimination Behaviors


Cat elimination behaviors are more complex sequences that range from gross macro-behaviors such as body movement and posture to subtle micro-behaviors such as tail positioning and ear placement. However, different litter boxes provide different experiences for a cat when eliminating (McGowan et al., 2017). The litter boxes provide both positive and negative experiences with the cat during defection and elimination events. When observing the cat elimination behaviors, it is important for one to understand that the number of urination events exceeds the number of defection events to be able to interpret the detailed behavioral analysis around the eliminatory events.

In this study, I divided the elimination events into three phases to better understand the reward cycle around the litter box use. The phases were the pre-eliminatory, during elimination and post-eliminatory events. Mainly, this mode of observation made it easier to quantify the pre, during and post-eliminatory behaviors of the cat around the litter box event (McGowan et al., 2017). The pre-elimination phase of the elimination behaviors is associated with events such anticipation and excitement. The during-eliminatory behavior also known as the consummatory behavior is associated with events such as pleasure and liking while the post-eliminatory events are associated with events such as relaxation and satisfaction. Disrupting this cycle in any way can lead to frustration or other negative affective states.

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In this study, I observed the elimination behaviors of a cat in two environments, namely, the clinical-like environment and the enriched one since they represent a positive and a negative experience, respectively. First I observed the elimination behaviors of the cat for about a hour then for the full time. I noticed that these two environments affected the duration of urination of the cat (McGowan et al., 2017). For instance, the cat in the clinical-like environment would often hold their urine since it urinated less often but for a longer duration than when it was placed in the enriched environment. The difference in elimination behaviors of the cat was also seen in the duration of time that it spend with the tails coiled in a U-posture. From the observation, when the cat was placed in the clinic-like environment it maintained the U-posture for a longer time compared to the enriched environment.

Furthermore, after placing the cat in the clinic-like environment it appeared more restless during elimination. In such environment, the cat walked around the litter box, pivoted the body and shifted its paw postures when eliminating in the clinic-like environment than in the enriched environment (Guy, Hopson & Vanderstichel, 2014). Again, the cat balanced on the side of the box more often when eliminating in the clinic-like environment. Mainly, this observation provides evidence that when the cat is placed in the clinic-line environment, it become frustrated since the environment prevents it from fully completing the pre or the post eliminatory sequences to its gratification. When the cat was placed in the enriched environment, it would utilize the entire litter box space when eliminating, thus indicating that it have more opportunity to complete the elimination behavior to satisfaction due to the large available space in the litter box.

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  1. Guy, N. C., Hopson, M., & Vanderstichel, R. (2014). Litterbox size preference in domestic cats (Felis catus). Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9(2), 78-82.
  2. McGowan, R. T., Ellis, J. J., Bensky, M. K., & Martin, F. (2017). The ins and outs of the litter box: A detailed ethogram of cat elimination behavior in two contrasting environments. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 194, 67-78.
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